What becomes possible when everyone has a fair chance

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Much to my mother’s chagrin, I fancy myself to be a bit of a “cafeteria Catholic” – meaning as I walk down the long cafeteria line of my given religion, I put on my tray the stuff I can believe in and leave the rest on the line.

As a result, church has for me become less about the gospel on the page as it is about the leader who gives that gospel voice, who helps me to see how the mystery meets the moment, who helps make meaning of the world around us and reconcile it with the spirit within us.

Carl Phinney is one of those mystic leaders.

In addition to being a pastor, Carl is also the founder of Opportunity Construction – an employment social enterprise in the REDF portfolio helping people coming out of prison build skills in prevailing wage construction jobs. His passion for this work comes from his own lived experience as a young man who made some mistakes that got him into prison too. He built Opportunity Construction to create the change in his community that he wanted for himself. He wanted a place where people could earn the kind of money that could cause them to dream again.

I’m a big fan of the phrase: “you dream what you see.” So if you see vibrant businesses down the road from your house, you dream about what your business will one day be. And if you see kids playing in the street without a care in the world, you dream about the parent you will one day be. But when Carl was coming up, instead of this kind of carefree vibrancy, what he saw were the challenges that have plagued so many historically disinvested communities around the country. He saw the hometown struggle that limited his options growing up, coupled with the allure of street life as not only a place to find community but a way to earn much-needed income too.

This April, we raise awareness of the collateral consequences of a criminal conviction – a plight faced by more than 70M people in our country. The language around this month has changed from Second Chance Month to Fair Chance Month – lifting up the notion that yes, people make mistakes, but sometimes the conditions that caused them to make those mistakes in the first place were rooted in systemic inequities. The more we recognize that truth, the more we will open our eyes and open our onramps to the vast pools of overlooked talent in our country that need access to opportunity. And the more we will learn from leaders like Carl who teach us that we are not the sum total of our past, but the infinite possibility of our future.

For the past 11 years, Carl has dedicated his life to building Opportunity Construction and creating new beginnings for so many returning home from prison. He believes that everyone deserves a Fair Chance – a chance not to be pinned to one moment in your life, but to be known for the biggest gifts that you have.

I am so grateful we have the honor to learn from leaders like Carl every day. And as I push my metaphorical cafeteria tray down the line, I guarantee you that I will pick up everything Carl is putting down and I will feel stronger, fuller, and more hopeful for it.

Here’s to believing what becomes possible when everyone has a Fair Chance.